I never played organized ball, so maybe you think I'm not the guy to judge the Diamonds in the Rough Contest, which rewards young people who built character playing baseball.
But, don't let my youthful aversion to Little League fool you; I played baseball pretty much every day I could get outside (which in the '70s -- pre-video games, pre-cable TV, pre-Internet -- was a lot of days).
We played stickball in the street and in a huge parking lot up the street that has now been covered over with a building (see photo). We rode our bikes to Marine Park and Friends Field and played on actual grass and dirt, too. We chose the names of our ever-changing heroes -- "I'm Rusty Staub," "I'm Tom Seaver." I always liked to be Felix Millan because it allowed you to do that crazy choke-up on the bat. When there were only a couple of us, we set up the pitch-back and played anyway. When alone, there was always a painted square on a wall that you could pitch to.
Like most American kids -- at least before the primacy of the NFL took over -- I grew up on baseball. I learned to cooperate, I learned to share, I learned to win, to lose (and to nearly get hit by a car!) while playing baseball. So, in that sense, I feel as qualified as anyone to judge this content, organized by Briggs & Stratton as part of its 100th anniversary celebrations.
According to the official statement for the contest, "The 2008 Diamonds in the Rough youth baseball contest is challenging kids to inspire their peers -- and America -- by explaining how playing baseball helped them build The Power Within to overcome challenges on or off the field.
Kids are encouraged to share their story through a video, essay or photos at www.briggsdiamondsintherough.com. The grand prize winner will win $10,000 to help maintain their home baseball field and a trip for four to New York to attend a Yankees game."
Even though the prize is a trip to a Yankees game -- maybe the winners can also head over to catch some real baseball in Queens and say goodbye to Shea for me -- I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing what Milwaukee kids have to say.
Here is an outline of the contest. Judging takes place next week and Sunday is the deadline for entries, so don't wait...
• Kids ages 7-14 can enter from Feb. 19-March 23, 2008.
• Nineteen winners from select cities* win $5,000 and lawn equipment powered by Briggs & Stratton for maintaining their home field. One national "MVP Winner" will also be named from entries not from the select cities.
• The 20 winners compete for the grand prize -- $10,000 for their home field and a trip for four to New York to see a Yankees game -- which will be determined via an online vote from March 26-April 13.
• More information, including an entry form and official rules, is available at www.briggsdiamondsintherough.com.
* Within a 30-mile radius of Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Houston; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Philadelphia,; Portland, Ore., Sacramento, Calif.; St. Louis; Seattle; and Tampa.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.